Advice from a pro backyard beekeeper

San Diego-based Hilary Kearney keeps bees full time, managing 90 colonies. Her business, Girl Next Door Honey, offers a variety of classes, live bee removal and honey products. She also maintains the insightful blog Beekeeping Like A Girl.

We caught up with the impassioned entrepreneur to learn a little more about the business of backyard beekeeping.

How did you first get into beekeeping?

By chance. I bought a beekeeping book for someone else who had expressed an interest, but when I read it I got hooked! I fell in love with bees. They are so fascinating. I kept reading more about them and then I finally decided that I just needed to get some bees if I wanted to really learn about them.  

How can newbies to get started on their own backyard beekeeping project?

Unfortunately, beekeeping isn't easy, but new beekeepers can give themselves the best chance if they take the time to research before diving in. I have been teaching beekeeping for about 5 years now and have designed an online class for beginners who aren't sure where to start. It's been really popular and a lot of people said they learned more from this class than they did from the books they read. I also really encourage people to try to find local classes ideally with a hands-on element.

What’s a realistic time commitment for keeping bees?

Once you have learned the trade, beekeeping is not very time consuming, but you do have to put in more time when you first get started because you'll need to do a lot of learning. Typically you only need to inspect your hives every two to four weeks. 

How do you dispel the “scary” myths about handling bees?

If you're going to keep bees, you're going to get stung, but I always tell people the worst part about getting stung is worrying about getting stung. Once you actually get a sting, you realize it isn't that bad. Actually bee venom is being researched for medicinal properties. I like to think it’s good for me. 

What’s the coolest thing you’ve learned about bees?

I read about a study where they found that bees can essentially reverse the effects of aging! Worker bees perform different jobs throughout their live that change as they age. These researchers removed all the young bees from the hive and as a result, some of the older bees reverted back the jobs of their youth. They found that the older bees who performed the jobs of younger bees also regained some cognitive abilities. I thought that was pretty incredible. 

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